Humanist Alternatives to Church at Air Force Basic Training
In a major step forward for humanist support, alternatives to church have been provided to humanists at Air Force Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base. Victoria Gettman, Debbie Bienen, and the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas have stepped forward to help Air Force trainees who are looking for humanist support. The request started with a future Airman who asked the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers for support.
I’ll be going to Lackland. I’m joining the Air Guard as an intel analyst, so I’m waiting on clearance before I can leave. My plan has been to attend a different service each Sunday, to keep my head low and get a feel for how the military treats religion.
It would be excellent to attend a non-theist event. Like I said, I won’t know my ship date until my clearance process has at least started, but as soon as my superiors let me know, I’ll forward that info to you. Thank you so much for the support.
The Airman is left anonymous as he is still moving through training, but he did just graduate basic training last week as a top 10% honor graduate.
Upon arrival, the Airman approached the chaplains for support. While chaplains have declined to provide direct support they did coordinate with command. The Squadron commander has accommodated the request. This has allowed humanist volunteers to go onto the installation and meet with interested trainees. Support for 1 trainee has grown to 15 in just a few weeks. This shows a lot of interest considering that the lack of chaplain support has also prevented any advertisement of the service to other trainees other than word-of-mouth. To be truly equal, trainees must be told the support is available.
The humanist trainees had a safe and affirming place to talk, more than a Christian or secular military environment could offer. Topics covered in the meetings included coping with stress, the humanist community, coping with stress and grief, and general humanist beliefs. Two books used were Good without God by Harvard Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein and the Humanist Approach to Grief and Grieving by Jen Hancock. The meetings were very much successful. The meetings have started to overflow the space available so far.
One of the original 5 attendees had this to say, “I hope we find a way to advertise because many more would come. I would hate for this to die off.” During the second meeting, one attendee said, “I waited all week for this!”
This is a significant step forward for diversity support in the military. MAAF has reached out to Lackland AFB public affairs to collaborate on the story, but they have declined thus far to respond. Trainees have asked for their pictures to be used but officials say it is against regulations to take pictures of trainees without public affairs approval. MAAF still hopes the Air Force will take credit for facilitating this new accommodation of diversity.
MAAF has previously established alternatives to church at all of the national Military Academies, but this is the first support at any active duty military installation. Basic training is the first introduction of young enlistees to military service and obviously a high-stress environment. It is very often the first time away from home for these young men and women as well. Atheists and humanists arrive every week at Naval Station Great Lakes, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, and the various Army Basic Training installations. MAAF continues to reach out to chaplains and commanders at other training installations.
All of this has been possible due to the courage of trainees to be different in a regimented institution and for local volunteers like Vicki and Debbie to give their time and money to support fellow humanists and other interested trainees.